If someone had said to me 4 years ago that I would now be working in a Russell Group University I would have been completely aghast. Four years ago I was wrung out and very battered – I had no idea what job I could do next and I certainly didn’t have any ambition. All I knew was that I had just had a lucky escape and that my sanity was intact solely due to my instincts and my need to be OK for our daughter. The return to meaningful occupation hasn’t been easy but now I find myself reflecting on one of the best weeks of my working life – I have been able to live my values and actively promote authenticity and reflection for aspiring young people. I have just spent the week with splendid young people – I didn’t realise how strongly I feel about the transformative power of Higher Education until now – it is a cause I really believe in – that high quality education can make a difference and raise expectations – knowing stuff is important – being able to discriminate between quality information and fake stuff is important. I have been impressed with how young people who have just finished their exams can still be enthusiastic and energetic – engaged in the experience offered to them and willing to try new stuff.
This last week I have been able to offer an educational experience I really cared about – encouraged thoughtful interactions and committed myself to compassionate educational opportunities. Students were encouraged to reflect on their learning and my colleague and I were modelling a version of Academia that showed them the importance of critical discourse rather than telling them.
We walked, talked, laughed, shared and questioned. I believe that they began to see why they had been encouraged to aim high and apply to an elite University – that there were powerful possibilities arising in the responsible use of knowledge and how perspectives can be changed.
bell hooks states that critically engaged pedagogy is hard work – it is demanding to be progressive and consistently promote social justice (1). After a week of working to promote active learning I have realised I really do care about it very much. I am also very tired. I am also feeling hopeful, hopeful about my future and for the generations to come and their intellectual rigour. It is a shift in thinking that I welcome and being hopeful is helpful – a theme that has emerged and a motivating force for my future.
1 bell hooks 1994 Teaching to Transgress Education as the Practice of Freedom Routledge
“Engaging in emotional labour (regulating one’s own emotions and those of others) requires adherence to the display rules of the role – the often – unwritten regulations governing a worker’s observed affect….” Needham et al (2017) p. 290 (1)
Emotional labour is a concept that I have been interested in for a long time – there is no doubt that how people emote in the work place is revealing. I have blogged about it before in that I stated that stress testing is for bridges not people. I believe that congruence (2) is a threshold concept for effective working and troublesome knowledge (3). I have really struggled with it and have resisted and felt repelled. I can feel the hostility and fear – I also find it difficult to hide what I am feeling and am increasingly aware how intolerant people are around me – put up and shut up. This is not an environment within which I can thrive – I can only give so much in support to others without some reciprocity. Part of me knows that I am picking up other people’s stuff and that I need to find ways of protecting myself, but it feels like really hard work.
Being sensitive to these issues and drawing attention to them feels like a really important role to play – pointing out the bleeding obvious. I keep noticing stuff, but I seem to be the only one who is prepared to say anything out loud!! Self-compassion is the lesson and finding ways to respond to the inner critic that has been around for a very long time – at times I am 10, sometimes I am 15 and sometimes I am much older but learning to recognise my emotional response and picking up the evidence of which Sue is being triggered is beginning to help a lot. It is hard work and depletes my batteries but writing about it for this blog feels like a necessary next step.
I now know that expressed congruence has an important function to play if we are to improve workplace environments. I think we should reverse engineer the issues around mental health within HE and instead of focussing on the individual and problematising worries, anxieties, low mood and low energy we should ask questions about why things are the way they are and what is happening for people. I am astonished at the “averted gaze”, particularly in Higher Education (4)– the blame and shame game – rather than courage and compassion (5). I am increasingly convinced that I need to share these thoughts and find a platform to develop the discussions, but old habits die hard and I can feel myself shutting down and freezing.
Getting to the point of putting my head above the parapet seems important and that I need some help to process some of the traumatic events of 4 years ago. There is only so much you can do on your own and although I know I have understood a lot from writing and reflecting I also really believe that skilled therapists are an important intervention for modelling self-compassion and self-understanding. Being self-reliant and tough is overrated and asking for help not a weakness but a strength.
1. Needham et al (2017) The emotional labour of boundary spanning Journal of Integrated Care 25, 4 https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/JICA-04-2017-0008
2. Greenberg & Geller Congruence and Therapeutic Presence https://www.sharigeller.ca/_images/pdfs/Congruence_proofs.pdf
3. Meyer and Land (2005) Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10734-004-6779-5
4. Wisniewski R (2000) The Averted Gaze Anthropology and Education Quarterly https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1525/aeq.2000.31.1.5
5. Brene Brown – Braving the Wilderness
Eighteen years ago I became a parent, responsible for another human being.. It was daunting but so worthwhile and has changed me a great deal. Yet I am still the person I was back then, my need for answers, asking questions, not content or complacent, seeking improvement in what I do. However my work, the way I do it and my assessment of myself has fundamentally changed, I’ve slowed down, become more reflective and seek to be kind, compassionate and curious. Watching my daughter grow up and responding to her needs has been tricky at times, it has surfaced some deficits for me that I have found difficult to understand. I am currently exploring how to let go of long held habits of thinking and emotional flashbacks, now I know what they are it is helping.
Helping people is my thing, I love it.. Listening and then responding with suggestions of what to do and offering possible explanatory frameworks. I am enjoying this work with students but it has also brought some painful stuff up for me. When I started nursing in 1979 I was utterly miserable. IT is no exaggeration to say that I have been traumatised by those early experiences. I worked on a ward for older people that was not what I expected, nursing was task based and I was mocked and bullied by staff on the ward. I was very unhappy and I learnt how to keep going and keep out of trouble, I didn’t learn about nursing care and respectful interventions for helping older people recover from illness. I stayed in nursing because after 6 weeks of enduring the humiliation on the ward I spent a fortnight with a district nurse. It was fabulous, person centred and everything I thought nursing would be.. My future was now clear I wanted to be a district nurse and sought to grit my teeth, put up, shut up and work towards that ambition. I disliked hospital nursing and found it difficult, total institutions make me feel uncomfortable, unaddressed unthinking and assumptions always trouble me. I didn’t know that then but looking back to that experience I had a horrible time. Yet I didn’t leave, I was always a good girl, keen to do the right thing and not let people down. I also didn’t have anywhere to go, no room back with my family and no sense that I could go back.
My horrible experience of 4 years ago has really helped me forgive myself for staying in nursing and also examining that experience has helped me understand why I got so distressed with colleagues. I also now understand why I couldn’t do anything about it and why I cried so much. Four years seems a healing time and I now feel I can use that experience to help others in a constructive way. Using my learning to protect others and to prevent toxicity building … I don’t want anybody to be treated the way I was back then… We need to help people to feel that they can call it, stop it and address the behaviours that exclude, encourage complacency and selfishness.
This Sunday has been very different .. Celebrating a wonderful young lady who I am proud to know and she has taught me a great deal about the value of friendships and the importance of self belief. The reciprocity of parenting and relationships is probably the greatest lesson I have learnt.
I watched a programme about the Open University this week that really helped me gain some insight into my beliefs about higher education and the potential for transformation.
My first degree was with the Open University and it was truly revelatory… After years of not thinking I was very bright I found I enjoyed learning and that I was really, really good at maths and physics – getting 100% for many of my assignments. It feels really strange to write that down and appreciate my ability..
I have always thought that I’d got a “noddy” degree, that in spite of working my butt off for 7 years and competently holding down a full-time job I hadn’t really fully appreciated what I’d done. Watching the programme with Lenny Henry made me realise that my degree is as good as anyone else’s and that the OU had to deliver very high quality education because it really mattered. Politicians wanted them to fail and they were always developing high quality material from the start to make sure those politicians couldn’t criticise the teaching.
The vision behind the OU was also about countering privilege and entitlement… Being OPEN to anyone really flew in the face of the prevailing culture about elitism and being a graduate. Studying with the OU really did change my life, helped me see what I could do and I certainly have had 2 contrasting academic careers thanks to that pioneering approach. I not only studied with the OU but also my first academic job was as a Tutor for a course on ageing that was very rigorous and underpinned by interdisciplinary and intersectional learning… It was fab!!!
It isn’t often that a TV programme makes a difference but this one did and I now can see why I am driven to emancipation and enablement in education and why social justice matters.
It has sown many seeds of thought about my values in education and why it matters to me that I have meaningful relationships with students. That it isn’t enough for the teaching/learning to be transactional ..emotions play a large part for me and I want to investigate this more…
I am going to start sharing these reflections more and start exploring what matters most for me in a caring, compassionate, critical and creative learning environment.
I have just finished reading Look What You Made Me Do by Helen Walmley-Johnson. Beautifully written and a very chilling tale.. I’m pleased I’ve read it but it wasn’t easy but it made me realise that clever women can be bullied and belittled.
One of the questions I have found hard to answer over the last four years is why I hadn’t seen the issues at play in the organisation before I went to work there. Of course it was partially hidden, I was charmed into the post and I was burnt out and vulnerable. A chronic lack of self belief and years of never being good enough meant that the praise and flattery woed me and diminished my BS detector. I was lucky to work with an amazing woman and her support and wisdom helped me notice the harm being done and we both got out. I am now well on my way to being more self confident and recognising that as an academic I have something to offer and that leaving nursing might be the best thing I’ve ever done. I don’t regret decisions in the past but understanding the why? and also the why not? is helpng me be kind and compassionate to my younger self. We all f**k up and sometime it is harder to forgive ourselves than others.
Nature, writing and walking have kept me well over the last 4 years. Even when I was really stressed and under pressure from bullying I didn’t go under. I am sure it was due to 3 actions that have helped me keep a sense of perspective and are becoming effective in protecting me from other people’s stuff. They are writing very morning, walking in nature and meditation .. As long as I do 1 out of 3 I am ok, if I do 3/3 I have a really good day, it helps me maintain my boundaries and provides shields… The shields smell of ginger, pepper and bergamot… Are better than defensive responses and are helpng me surf the BS and b**lks that I wrote about in November.
This photo is from one of my favourite walks in Washingwell Woods – I have walked there most weeks for the last 6 years…love it, the combination of woods and running water soothes my soul.
I wonder what you get if you combine overachievement with people pleasing? Well I think I know the answer to that ..burnout and complete frazzle!! Knowing early warning signs seems to be sensible and knowing how to look after your mental health and well being might be a good idea.
My last post proved to be a turning point and has taught me to be circumspect about how I share my musings. I forget how egocentric some folk are and how they might read things into my blog.
I had a huge issue with my previous blog in 2015 when it was used against me by some nasty folk… My mental health was questioned and my ability to function in a responsible job. Those allegations and anonymous complaints led me to resign from my job … No hesitation, no doubt. Looking back on the experience has really helped me shape my values and principles. I am beginning to be grateful to those wishing me ill… They have taught me a great deal and as a new year is just around the corner it seems like a good time to make some statements about what I want to do in 2019.. I think I need to write my book about relatiomships in professional practice and the book about finding your oomph! for young people in transitions.
Get on with it and believe in myself and cultivate confidence
Enjoying my photography again and linking poetry with my thinking..
Just wonder if other people might read it …